Jennifer Aniston; Elle Nov 05
As with every beginning, Jennifer Aniston's began with an ending. An ending that's impossible to give away because, unlike with the classics of high-society romantic devastation—Madame Bovary, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Anna Karenina—there isn't anyone who hasn't read and deconstructed the story of Brad and Jennifer. Or the sequel, Brad and Angelina. Or the companion guide, Angelina Goes to Africa.
While still recovering from having her heart ripped out and Hacky Sacked about, Aniston, in an effort to separate fact from fiction, gave a raw-nerved, teary-eyed, and delicately choreographed interview to Vanity Fair, the ruling-class glossy where a star can, with dignity, safely tell her sad story, pose in her underpants, and be done with it.
Months have passed. Seasons have changed. Eight-pound dumbbells rest on the floor. A bottle of pinot grigio chills on ice. A fabulous hair day is being had. “All that shit's old news,” Aniston says, really smiling, waving it off. “Past: done. Present: now. Future: none of our business.”
Or, as her friend Courteney Cox-Arquette says, “There's definitely been a shift. And that chapter…well, she seems really happy now.”
Aniston gets up to find her Merit cigarettes in what has been her home away from home, a luxe suite in Chicago's Peninsula hotel. It is, she swears, bigger than her new house. The actress is so thin she warrants a scolding. “I know, I know,” she says. “I lose weight when I work. I'll gain it back.” Seeing me wrestle with the wine opener, she takes over. “Let me open it, I was a waitress.… This is a terrible cork.…” Struggling herself, she says in a polite tone, “Oh, motherf--ker!” Cork removed, she triumphantly holds up the bottle. “Would you like some wine?”
In flip-flops, snug Generra jeans, and a black T-shirt stamped with a skull sticking a red tongue out at the world, Aniston, 36, doesn't look old enough to drink. She has smooth, tawny skin, and thick, caramel-color hair pin-streaked with blond frames her small face. Her pool-blue eyes are etched with dark blue starbursts emanating from her pupils. She sees through everything.
It is Aniston's last weekend in Chicago, where she's been shooting The Break-up, opposite Vince Vaughn. They play a couple who buy an apartment, split up, and have to live together until it's sold. “This movie was fate,” she says. “To be able to walk through a movie called The Break-up, about a person going through a breakup, while I'm actually going through a breakup?! How did that happen?! It's been cathartic. It's turned something into a fantastic experience—” Aniston catches herself. “Not that divorce is fantastic, but I've never had more fun in a creative process.”
Since wrapping Friends, Aniston has been frenzied with filmmaking. In Rob Reiner's Rumor Has It, costarring Mark Ruffalo and Kevin Costner, she plays an obit writer certain that she's the offspring of the lovers who inspired The Graduate. In the upcoming Friends With Money, she joins Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, and Joan Cusack as a ganja-loving maid whose friends are all married and moving up in the world. The actress didn't have to go far to research the role. “I have a bunch of friends who are potheads who are genius and wonderful, but they just can't motivate. They'll spend days trying to figure out how to make a birthday card!” She lights a cigarette. “Trust me, I have no judgment on the casual user. I've lived. But I'm talking about the true potheads—the wake-and-bakers who have arrested development because they've gone to the THC well one too many times.”
But it's her performance in this month's Derailed that allays any doubt as to whether Aniston can shed the skin of Rachel Green. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström (2003's Oscar-nominated Evil), the psychological thriller is a cross between Fatal Attraction and The Grifters. “It took me so long to say yes because I was terrified of it,” says Aniston, who acts her way through adultery, rape, and blackmail. “Not terrified—I don't want to say that. But I'd gotten comfortable, and I knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Then she heard a voice of reason.
“I was in Italy at the time, with my ex. And they were filming Ocean's Twelve—all the Lake Como stuff. So they were all staying there together. So basically, we were all having lunch at George Clooney's house and I had just gotten the script FedExed to me. I open up the envelope and it says Derailed, starring Clive Owen. And I was like, Wow, Clive Owen. I love Clive Owen! I can't wait to read this. We go down to lunch and we're all talking, and out of the blue Julia [Roberts] goes, 'Has anybody worked with Clive Owen?' She'd just finished Closer. And I said to myself, That's an omen. And I told her about the script. And she said, 'Well, honey, if you can, you have got to work with him, because he is dreamy.'”
Reading the script, Aniston became unnerved. “I'm thinking, Good God, Jesus. It's like watching a car wreck—you're riveted and then disturbed. I thought, Why would I want to make someone feel this way?” She smiles, arching a perfect brow.
Like her critically acclaimed portrayal of Justine, the depressed Retail Rodeo clerk in Miguel Arteta's 2002 The Good Girl, Aniston in Derailed draws on the deeper, darker, often repressed facets of her talent. “You're not going to be able to type her easily,” Reiner says. “She has the same range as, say, Meg Ryan, who can do light, deft comedy and then turn around and do In the Cut.”
“No one has seen her do this kind of part before, and it was a very smart choice to book Jennifer in. The bottom line is, she's a really classy actress—incredibly smart and sensitive,” says Owen, in his deep and dreamy British accent. He adds that she was “just hugely refreshing, completely unstarry, completely uncomplicated. There was no fuss. With big stars you never know quite what to expect. But for somebody who's lived under the spotlight for so long, she's incredibly sorted out and grounded. That was inspiring—that you can be a real human being. It takes an enormous amount of intelligence to keep rooted amidst that glare.”
Tell Aniston the ghost of Rachel Green did not appear once while watching Derailed and she squeezes her eyes shut, opens them, reaches her hand across the table, and says, “That is one of my greatest compliments.”
Arteta recalls the day he gave Aniston the Good Girl role. “She said, 'This is good timing.' After years of using comedy as a tool to make everybody happy…from her parents who got divorced [when she was nine] through the years of being on the show, she was ready to connect with the pain of being in her life,” he says. “Comedy had been a shield for her, and she played it out as far as she could take it.”
The director cast Aniston without an audition, understanding immediately the paradox that makes her perfect for the part. She is as sad as she is happy. “She connected with this universal feeling of 'I'm trapped in my life, I'm never going to get out.' Who would have thought that America's sweetheart could capture that? I will never forget the moment she walked onto the set,” he says. “She transformed her whole body; she had this sad, Chaplin-esque walk, as if Charlie Chaplin forgot to take his meds. And I turned to my cameraman and said, 'We have a movie.' ”
What The Good Girl promised, Derailed confirmed: that Aniston is gifted at conveying complex emotions. Consequently, you hate to see her out there treading in shallow water; she deserves better than getting-the-guy flicks. Aniston can tell you all about getting the guy. She deserved better than that, too. And after what she's been through, it would be disheartening to have her sell a character that buys into the fairy tale in 120 minutes, anyway.
Unless, of course, the prince is six feet five inches, hilarious, and named Vince Vaughn.
They say the only cure for love is to love more. “I agree,” Aniston says. “But I'm good right now. I have so much love. I have love. My women friends—they're all my mothers, they're all my sisters, they're all my partners, they're all my wives, my everything. It's hard to find a man who can live up to any of them.”
Vince Vaughn! He could live up to that. He could kick Brad's ass with one hand tied behind his back and the other cradling a beer.
Aniston wags a finger. “Vince is my friend,” she says, trying to be stern. “I adore him. He's delicious and funny. He's got all the colors of the rainbow. But I don't want to be a rebound girl. I feel like it will happen when it happens.”
(Asked later about the two of them looking very cozy at the Break-up wrap party, Aniston says, “No comment! Next question, please.”)
Nevertheless, Vaughn has been just what she needed. “He's one of the funniest guys I've been around,” says Arrested Development star Jason Bateman, who plays Vaughn's friend in the film. “She couldn't have picked a better person to spend a few months with while she's going through all this. Vince really looks out for her.”
“The thing with Jen is, she's so easy to feel drawn to,” Vaughn says, his affection obvious. “She's so genuine and warm, and she has a lightness, a classy ease about it all. You can see why people are so enamored. It's like she's stuffed with Elvis dust. Little kids see her and they don't know she's famous, and they just gravitate to her, they hang on her.”
More than any of the other Friends friends, Aniston has been adopted by the world as its own, in a Princess Diana “There were three of us in this marriage” sort of way. “I'm in the makeup trailer this morning,” says Paul Rudd, her costar in 1998's The Object of My Affection, calling from a London set. “And all the women were talking about how much they love Jennifer Aniston. They don't know her! But they do love her.” What Rudd finds amazing is Aniston's grace in the face of her fans' surreal familiarity with her. “People have the nerve to walk up and ask the most personal questions. The biggest testament to Jen is that she doesn't make them feel stupid for asking. She graciously responds.”
While in Chicago, Aniston is accompanied by Cyril, a sexy French bodyguard who belongs in a Luc Besson film but in the meantime is here to shield her from the crazies. “It's nice to have someone run interference,” Aniston says. “Mostly to protect you from those evil paparazzi vultures—they charge you so that they can get this look of absolute horror—because you're being charged! Then they write some wonderful caption like, 'Jen, furious!' Whatever happened to, like, hiding in a bush?”
Ben Stiller, her costar in 2004's Along Came Polly, remembers being in Paris for the film's press junket. “With Jen, you can't go anywhere without 20 guys on motorcycles following,” he says. One day she cleverly rented a boat to take Stiller and friends up the Seine to a secret pier, “and these insane photographers are off their bikes, running to catch the boat, and are left screaming on the dock like something out of Les Misérables.”
The sound of a tiny bell comes from another room. “Do you hear Norm's jingle?” Aniston asks, cupping a hand to her ear. “Come here, Norman. Come say hello.” Her big Welsh corgi-terrier mix trots into the room, his eyes the same blue as his mistress's. Aniston gets on her knees and gives him a huge hug. She grabs some grapes from the cheese platter, accidentally dropping a few on the floor. Bending to pick them up she says, “I'd swear you'd think I was pregnant.” She gives her head a little shake. “I don't know why I said that. Maybe because my friend's pregnant and she knocks into things, drops things all the time.”
No babies for Aniston—whom Stiller calls “the great catch of all time”—yet. But she's not quite ready to be caught.
“I'm enjoying this little solitude, this not needing anything,” she says. “I don't know what's going to happen next. Isn't that exciting? I can't wait to go to my sexy little house”—in Malibu, not far from the spread now occupied by her “ex”—“and sit on the beach.”
So if she were to run into someone she'd truly loved before, would she be open to loving that person again? “I don't know. I've never had that happen,” she says, her face suddenly expressionless. But then her features soften. “Look,” she says, “if you still love the person, you'll know it when you meet him again. And if you don't—you don't. If you do, you do. It didn't happen to me though, not yet, where I loved somebody and I met them 10 years later and 'I still love you.'” She reaches down to scratch Norman under his chin. “Maybe I would go back and do things differently. But those opportunities will come now. In the future. What's ahead. I've learned you can't change somebody. You be what you want to attract to you. You try to live by example and then hopefully it will come to you. But oh, projects are exhausting.” Aren't all actors projects? Maybe she should date someone not in the business.…
“I'm not saying I don't like a little fixer-upper,” she adds quickly. “But it's gotta go both ways.”
Listen to the hum, the whir, the ding, the ringing; you can hear Aniston's mind at work as she stares out the window at Lake Michigan. “I think I think too much,” she says. “And then I think too much about thinking too much. I'm an overthinker. I think a lot.” She taps her head. “The committee. Sometimes I have to say, 'Okay, guys, chill out.'”
It's the burden of having “her extreme emotional intelligence,” Vaughn says. “People could abuse that. But she chooses to use her gifts to make people feel good. She chooses to be kind.” Which is, given her situation, really saying something. But then again, she did once consider becoming a therapist.
“I love the human mind, the human emotion, the human being,” Aniston says. “We're fascinating creatures. I love the shadow parts of ourselves and the good parts of ourselves. And only recently have I gotten to that place of learning to embrace all of them—no apologies.” She looks out the window again. “My friend and I the other day were like, 'We're gonna rename ourselves the F--kits!' You know, 'F--k it! Just live.'”